It Doesn’t Take a Saint

By Mark E. Smith

Have you ever felt unequipped to handle the entirety of your disability, wondering how you could succeed among such seeming adversities in life?

Now, imagine if someone was there to support you during those discouraging moments – those times when you may have wondered how you were going to get through another day – where someone put a hand on your shoulder and said, “Believe me, I’ve been where you’ve been, with my own disability, and I know that you not only have the strength and the spirit to pull through this, but the abilities to make a tremendous mark on the world.” Just think of the difference that such a person would have in your life.

The truth is, none of us succeed in life on our own, including with disability. At some point, we simply need others to believe in us, to inspire us, to encourage our potentials in life. In fact, I’ve never met or heard of a tremendously successful person who didn’t credit someone else – a parent, a teacher, a boss, a spouse – for his or her successes in life. After all, the decisive factor in many of our paths is whether we simply have the confidence – the belief in ourselves – to pursue our dreams and goals. And, for many people, much of their confidence was established by others encouraging them along the way.

If you’ve spent any time living with disability, no matter your own or relating to someone who you care about, then you know that there are some downright discouraging cultural messages conveyed. We hear of continued discrimination and defeating statistics, such as 62% of those with disabilities are unemployed. We frequently witness family members lowering expectations of their loved ones with disabilities, such as implying day after day that disability is an inherently limiting factor. And, we witness public dismissing of those with disabilities, such as a restaurant waitress speaking to the able-bodied patron instead of directly to the person with the disability. Indeed, these negative social queues can certainly shake one’s confidence toward living with disability.

However, as many of us know, those discouraging factors ultimately have no significance toward our individual lives, toward our own successes with disability. We know that we have the capacity to see beyond any subjective social barriers, and move our lives forward, entirely undaunted by discouraging statistics, unsupportive families, or social stigmas. We know that we are capable, productive, impactful people above and beyond disability, just as with all others who live their lives to their fullest potential.

The question then becomes, how does one move one’s life from being burdened by negative cultural messages regarding disability, and rise to the level of self-confidence needed to truly succeed in life?

Someone offers encouragement along the way – it’s that simple.

In my own life, I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had two people along the way believe in me, one in my early twenties who encouraged my education and writing, and another who’s encouraged my mobility career over the years. And, make no mistake, I wouldn’t be the same person – nor would my career be the same – if it wasn’t for these two people encourage me and believing in me, helping me set my expectations of myself. After all, when we know that others believe in our abilities to make a difference in the world, we can’t help but wish to live up to their expectations, fostering our personal growth in the process.

Interestingly, you’ll note that I stated that I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had two people encourage me during my life, as it is true for many with disabilities that encouraging people can be hard to find. However, while encouraging people can prove scarce, they’re entirely easy to become – all we have to do is reach out to others with our own support and encouragement, letting them know that we see their potential, that we appreciate their vying and victories, that we believe in them.

It’s my belief that, as those with disabilities, we have a responsibility to serve roles of positivity and encouragement toward our peers with disabilities, where we have insight to reach out to others, recognizing their potential, saying to them, “I’ve been where you’ve been, with my own disability, and I know that you not only have the strength and the spirit to pull through this, but the abilities to make a tremendous mark on the world.” We should simply strive to be the ones who help others find their own strength and confidence toward successful living with disability, just as others have done for us.

Now, maybe you’re saying, “Mark, I’m struggling to find my own strength and confidence, with little success toward living with my own disability – I’m in no position to encourage others.”

To the contrary, you’re in every position to encourage others. See, encouraging others is from who you are, speaking as one person to another, and it’s your sincere efforts and belief in others that makes a difference in their lives, not your track record or resume’. I mean, think about how great it feels when a complete stranger compliments you – you know nothing about the person, but his or her words make all of the difference to you. The reality is, it doesn’t take a saint to make a difference in someone’s life, just your sincere effort toward encouragement.

Surely, encouraging others with sincerity seems like a selfless act, as it should be – after all, we help people because we know that they have remarkable potential, not because we expect our own reward. However, as I’ve learned, encouraging others is remarkably reciprocal, where our encouragement of others often encourages us in return, where their inspired efforts lead us to believe more in our own potential. In one of my most valued relationships, years ago I reached out to a young lady who seemed to be struggling with disability, only to find myself forever inspired by her efforts to better her life. As a result, while she’ll kindly tell you that I encouraged her life for the better, she’s certainly encouraged my life for the better – that is, somewhere during our friendship, we forgot who’s encouraging whom, both finding encouragement from each other toward living with disability.

Of course, no matter our positive outlooks in life, we will still encounter those who engage in the complete opposite of encouragement, where rather than trying to uplift others with disabilities, they try to top their misery – If you think your life is bad, wait till you hear about mine! – turning every conversation about living with disability into a pity party. These types of life-is-terrible conversations do nothing more than pull both people down farther. In everyday terms, if we see a fire, it’s our obligation to help put it out, not pour gasoline on it – that is, let us use our words and actions to uplift others with disabilities, not foster negative disability views with woe-is-me conversations.

Amazingly, it doesn’t take an extraordinary effort to make a difference in the lives of others living with disability – often, just a few focused, kind words that encourage one’s good efforts. If you know of someone struggling with disability, jump in and let him or her know that it will get easier, that you recognize his or her potential for success in the face of adversity. If you know someone with a disability who’s striving to move his or her life forward, jump in and cheer him or her, letting him or her know that you recognize the sure-to-come achievement. And, if you know someone with a disability who may not recognize all that he or she has to offer the world, jump in and point out that you and many others believe that he or she has the capacity that it takes to go far in life.

Put simply, we can better all of our lives as those with disabilities by being among the most encouraging, supportive peers possible, where we don’t ever pass on the opportunity to simply put our hand on a friend’s shoulder, and state those four empowering words: I believe in you.


How’s that Working for You?

By Mark E. Smith

How have you chosen to view your disability, and how’s that working for you?

This provocative question came to mind recently when I spoke with a family facing disability. The wife was in her 50s, with multiple sclerosis, and she shared with me that her progressive condition has single-handedly destroyed her life. “M.S. has robbed me,” she said. “And, life only gets worse every day. I have nothing to look forward to but more pain and anguish. For every new level of multiple sclerosis, there’s another devil in my life. The best is over for me.”

Now, most wouldn’t question the woman’s sentiments. After all, she most likely went from dreaming of a carefree retirement like most her age, to facing the daily challenges of living with progressive disability – that’s a tough tact in life to take.

Yet, as I found myself wondering, was her condition truly so devastating, can life truly be so bad?

Maybe, or maybe not. From my own life and career, I’ve learned that how disability impacts our lives is often subjective, based less on the physical realities of disability, and more influenced by our own perspectives. I’ve known those who let arguably minor limitations destroy their lives, and I’ve known those with profound disabilities who’ve achieved remarkable success. Personal perspective, it proves, is a decisive factor in living with disability: Do we see ourselves as victims or victors?

Along with the woman were her husband of thirty years, and their two college-age daughters – and they were among the most supportive family that I’ve ever met. The husband told me of remodeling their home to maximize his wife’s independence, and he told me how the daughters took turns coming over each day to help their mom with any personal care that she couldn’t accomplish any longer on her own, that many from their church happily helped drive her on errands and to appointments, that they were fortunate to have great health insurance, with access to the best specialist on the East Coast.

Still, every time that the husband spoke positively, the wife spoke negatively:

“The girls have been a tremendous blessing in facing these family challenges,” he said.

“It’s all the little aspects of M.S. that make me so angry, like not being able to tie my shoes,” she said.

“We’re lucky that our insurance is so good that we haven’t had to use our savings like others,” he said.

“If I have to see one more stupid doctor because of this disease, I’m going to choke someone,” she said.

“We’re taking each day as it comes, and trusting that whatever comes our way, we can handle it as a family,” he said.

“I just want to go back to the way things were before all of this,” she said.

In a world of victims and victors, clearly this family fit both roles, where the wife saddled herself with every burden of disability that she could fathom, while the rest of the family strove to move forward with levels of acceptance and optimism.

The context of my conversation with the family was one of acquaintance and brevity, so I wasn’t in a position to ask the most pertinent question to the wife: How’s holding on to resentment toward your disability – toward what you’ve seemingly lost – improving your life? How’s that working for you?

In fact, I had the chance to ask that very question of a friend of mine not too long ago. My friend was paralyzed at age 16 in an auto accident, and 20 years later, he explained to me one evening that not a day goes by when he doesn’t wish with all of his might to turn back the clock, to return to the moments before the accident, to change everything. He went on with great candor, explaining that he regrets being a father and a husband who uses a wheelchair, that he wants to be himself as he once was: Able-bodied.

“How’s that outlook working for you?” I asked.

“What outlook?” he asked.

“The one where you’re holding on so tightly to what you believe you’ve lost in the past, that you’re refusing to let yourself move forward and live entirely in the present,” I said. “How is regretting that you can’t walk bettering your life in the present as a father and husband?”

Of course, it’s a tough question to answer, but it’s a fundamental question for any of us struggling to move our lives forward with disability – that is, if we hold on to the past, focusing on what we’ve seemingly lost, how does that help us in the present?

It doesn’t. No one can say, “I swear to you, the more that I resent life and despise this body that’s betrayed me with disability, the better my life gets.” I mean, do we really think that the woman with multiple sclerosis is fostering her family’s emotional health in their challenging time with such a bleak outlook? Do we really think that my friend is being the best father and husband that he can be by clinging to the supposed regrets of what he could be if only he could walk?

Absolutely not. Such people who hold on to the past, who resent their disabilities, do little beyond sabotaging ever finding any successes and happiness in life. At some point, we must simply live in the present if we’re going to succeed, where we must sincerely play the hand we were dealt to the fullest, with a sense of purpose to our lives, rather than resentment. There’s nothing that we can change about the past, and holding on to it makes our lives futile. However, we certainly can control the present with our choices and perspectives, greatly dictating our own successes in life.

Interestingly, even the quest for a cure can serve as an empowering mindset when it comes to living with disabilities and accepting one’s situation. I know, it may seem like a contradiction, that anyone seeking a cure – medicinal or miraculous – isn’t accepting one’s situation, but is merely wishing for a way out. Yet, some of those seeking cures are among the most positive, inspired people who you’ll ever meet. After all, literally pursuing a cure through a therapy regimen or religious journey requires absolute optimism, practicing the belief that life will only improve through hard work and faith – that’s a powerful outlook. In fact, a very spiritual young man going through rehab due to a head injury shared with me his belief that “the Lord helps those who help themselves.” Regardless of one’s religious inclination, there’s absolute truth in the fact that our lives only improve when we help ourselves – and that requires a positive outlook.

Now, some say that it’s impossible not to resent disability, that it’s such a profound life change that no one can just get over it. And, they’re right to a point – disability is a major life change that takes time to address, understand, work-through, and accept. However, anyone refusing to move forward toward disability acceptance – read that, self-acceptance – is on a self-defeating course. Again, we don’t see successful people with disabilities – who have healthy relationships, rewarding careers, and empowered lives – who resent their disabilities. It’s quite clear that if one’s going to lead an all-encompassing, successful life with disability, one has to move beyond hopelessly clinging to resentment and bitterness, and assume personal responsibility for building a positive life path.

I have to wonder, wouldn’t it be terrific if the woman with multiple sclerosis, and my friend with a spinal cord injury, both found the perspective – took the responsibility – to turn a new page in their disability experience, to shake their self-imposed life sentences, pronouncing the affirmative that while disability happened to me, I’m going to also make life work for me? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the woman demonstrated to her daughters that nothing is taken from us without enriching our lives in other areas, as with the kindness others have offered as a result of her multiple sclerosis? And, wouldn’t it be great if my friend with a spinal cord injury sought to be the best father and husband possible, irregardless of disability, by teaching his son that it’s not who we were, but who we are that’s important? And, wouldn’t it be great if each of us followed these simple principals, where we don’t let disability to defeat is, but we let it elevate us?

The fact is, disability isn’t what we chose, and it may not be easy. However, disability is what we have – and, if we’re going to succeed in life, we need to let go of what we’ve seemingly lost in our pasts, and get on with our lives, where disability doesn’t usher in the worst, but brings out our best. After, all, life doesn’t give us challenges so that we sink with our pasts; rather, life gives us opportunities so that we rise in our futures. And, for those of us who choose to work toward a victorious life with disability – fending off a victim mentality, maintaining positive perspectives – disability is an opportunity to not only elevate our own lives, but also to elevate the lives of others around us, where disability experience ultimately becomes a rewarding experience.

Crumbling the Clay that Surrounds Us

By Mark E. Smith

An acquaintance recently emailed me a “day-in-the-life-of-a-disabled-person” video. Of course, I watched the video, and what I saw was a gentlemen with a severe disability getting himself up in the morning – bathing, shaving, and dressing, then catching a bus to work. Then, in the second half of the video he went through his day at work, returned home, went for a swim, had dinner, surfed the web, and went to bed. Put simply, the video showed the gentleman living a strikingly average life, just with the physicality of profound disability mixed in.

What intrigued me about receiving the video, wasn’t the video, itself. After all, it was about as boring as watching myself get ready for the day. Rather, what intrigued me about the video was the forwarded chain of emails that accompanied it, containing countless people writing of their amazement at the gentleman’s day-in-the-life abilities.

This email chain got me thinking: How is it that some still remain so seemingly culturally ignorant toward others that they are somehow enlightened by a video of a guy with a disability doing what everyone else does? I mean I understand that some folks aren’t familiar with those of us with disabilities, but if one sees a man or woman who has a disability, isn’t it a given to assume that he or she has to bathe, eat, and work like everyone else?

The answer, as insane as it sounds, is, no – some people have no understanding that those with disabilities live lives just like everyone else, where bathing, eating, and working are givens. Surely, those with severe disabilities have to overcome more than others in daily tasks, and I argue that those with disabilities cannot live mediocre lives if we wish to succeed, where we must pursue higher levels of education, and push ourselves above and beyond the everyday standards of others if we wish to make our ways to any success in the world at large. But, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that we do mostly the same tasks as everyone else when it comes to daily living.

Last year, I wrote a piece about the television reality show, Little People, Big World, where I expressed my annoyance at the Roloff’s monologues that explain the obvious, such as that those of short stature have difficulty reaching high cabinets – and I noted that television viewers must be smart enough not to need such explanations. However, I received a host of emails stating that I was, indeed, giving the viewing public too much credit, that some folks truly are clueless when it comes to acknowledging those with disabilities and the lives that we lead. In this way, reading the comments on the forwarded email video that I recently received confirmed that notion, where some on the email clearly had no prior understanding that those with disabilities can lead independent lives.

Yet, I don’t believe that disability, in itself, has any influence toward provoking ignorance in others toward how we live. Truly, anyone who’s impressed that those with disabilities get up and go to work in the morning certainly has an overwhelming lack of cultural awareness as a whole, likely clueless toward countless cultures and backgrounds. After all, no one is going to exercise understanding and enlightenment toward people of all races, ethnicities, religions, orientations, and backgrounds, only to exclude disability. Truly, if a person is genuinely astounded that someone with a disability can get himself up for work in the morning, there’s no doubt that that person is uninformed about many others of diversity, where disability is simply one topic among many that’s escaped his or her radar screen.

However, we can’t fault such people – that is, we can’t presume that ignorance toward disability is an offensive act, or that others being impressed by our abilities is patronizing. What we should do is treat others with the same understanding the we, ourselves, seek, and give them the opportunity to learn and embrace us in their own time. Sure, some will watch such a video of the gentleman with a disability getting himself ready for work – or, even see you and me going about our days – and give no thought to the experience of others. Yet, some will watch such a video, or see you and me living life, and it will truly serve as an education, a lesson that they take to heart, an understanding that people are more the same than they are different, a realization that they will apply to many others of diversity, well beyond disability.

I heard the story once of an ancient Asian clay monument that sat in its location for centuries. The government sought to move the statue, needing to make way for a city’s expansion. With the statue being clay, they didn’t want to damage it in the move, so they called in the best cranes and operators, striving to delicately lift the monument. Unfortunately, in the process, the clay began crumbling, piece by piece. And, what was exposed underneath the clay astounded everyone: A solid gold core. The outer clay was simply a facade, where no one had ever sought to look at what was beyond it, leaving it’s true value unrecognized for centuries.

As people, we’re often quick to not only hide behind our own facades, but also to go through our lives oblivious to the tremendous depths of others around us. In this way, what I found truly remarkable about the gentleman’s day-in-the-life-of-disability video, was that he was generous enough to expose the intimacies of his life to others, and as illustrated through the forwarded email chain, others were receptive enough to learn from the video, to ultimately see past the clay, to recognize the gold within each of us.

And, that’s the answer to my question of, when will some people stop being so culturally ignorant toward those with disabilities – that is, when we, as those with disabilities, are gracious enough to forgo our facades and welcome all others into our lives, presenting them with invaluable opportunities to learn.

Sounds Of Success

The White Stripes are a cutting-edge band that creates some of the most complex, loud rock-and-roll music that you’ll ever hear, filling stadiums with bigger-than-life sounds – and, it all comes from only two people, playing a guitar and a set of drums. “Because we’re so limited, we have to be creative in what we craft,” says Jack White, guitarist, lead singer, and song writer.

Disability experience can prove a lot like playing in a two-man band, trying to compete with bands of more members and instruments. At what point, though, as the White Stripes prove, do limitations breed inspiration and success, on levels where one finds a way to turn seeming restrictions into liberation, where a lone musician can rival the power of an orchestra?

In many ways, limitations encourage focus, and focus is what’s needed to achieve success – all of which often takes place within the realm of living with disability. You’ll encounter those with disabilities who have experienced tremendous hardships, yet have achieved tremendous success in many areas of life. Indeed, it’s a seeming contradiction that hardship and tragedy – facets of many disabilities – allow or foster success, just as with two musicians filling a stadium with sounds that can only come from multi-piece bands. And, yet, time and time again, limitations – disability and otherwise – provide the focus needed to achieve success.

When Richard Pryor recently died, his widow said that Pryor’s multiple sclerosis brought clarity and comfort to his life that he’d never known, where disability encouraged him to look at himself and others with a new perspective, one stemming from understanding rather than angst. And, limitations have such an affect on many, where they’re often encouraged to see what they may have previously overlooked or ignored. Limitations, in fact, narrow one’s field in a way that clarity and focus are all but demanded, where one inherently maximizes potentials. In Pryor’s case, his focus was more demanded by circumstance than idealism, where he was always running, chasing drugs, chasing women, trying to flee his demons. However, once he literally couldn’t run anymore as a result of multiple sclerosis, he had to focus on himself and those within his family – his physical limitations created emotional focus and growth. In this way, Pryor achieved greater success as a husband and father under the limitations of his disability than previously without, proving that limitations can inherently empower.

If limitations can inherently empower, then even more remarkable success is achievable through consciously knowing how limitations can foster success. In working with many wheelchair users over the years, I’ve witness countless specialty control needs, where a user must only use a single body part and movement – a finger, foot, or tongue – to control his or her powerchair, where with focus, creativity, and tenacity, expansive mobility is achieved. The same conscious effort that goes into maximizing physical abilities – working with constraints to achieve success – applies to so many aspects of life. If a stock broker, for example, applies the same creativity, tenacity, and foresight to maintaining portfolios as one does in addressing one’s disability – identifying potentials amidst limitations – he’s bound to succeed. The key to success in all aspects of life, then, is to consciously focus on the sole areas of opportunity that you have at any given moment, and work them to fullest potentials. If your disability relates to your legs, what can you achieve with your upper body and education? If stocks as a whole are tanking, where is a sector of potential growth to enhance your portfolio? If your relationship isn’t fulfilling, in what steps can you identify that will improve it? There are ingredients to life, ones that are never constant or equal – and, it’s in assessing the ingredients in your life at any point, recognizing what can be created, that breeds resiliency and success – it’s where single instruments are played to fullest potentials.

For the New Year, all of us – disabled or not – have the chance to view our limitations as opportunities, where we can fully assess the potentials that we have, thriving and empowering our roles. You may have a few less instruments in your band than others, but play them with more skill, talent, and creativity than most others – and you will fill stadiums with the sounds of your success.

Rolling Resume

Scroll EBay under the search term, “wheelchair,” and every couple of weeks you’ll see someone trying to auctioning off the back of his or her wheelchair as advertising signage, where for very little money, a marketing marvel will roll around with your business’ slogan on the backrest of his or her wheelchair. Brilliant – as brilliant as the guys who auction off their foreheads, or the women who auction off their cleavage.

Or, is it?

There’s a difference between auctioning one’s wheelchair, and auctioning one’s forehead or cleavage for advertising. If auctioning one’s forehead ties into a Howard Stern stupid stunt, and auctioning one’s cleavage ties into our culture’s adage that sex sells, where does using auctioning one’s wheelchair as advertising land as an object of entertaining value in pop-marketing?

It doesn’t. What auctioning off one’s wheelchair as signage does tie into is historical need, where those with disabilities have been portraits of charitable empathy, not empowered earners. In this way, auctioning one’s wheelchair as signage is a step backward, conjuring images of times past, eras where wheelchairs, signboards, tin cans, and street corners were acceptable means for those with disabilities to use in raising money via panhandling.

In fact, the view of auctioning off the back of one’s wheelchair as a cry for charity isn’t lost on the mainstream, as the media wrote about a recent auction, “He is looking for a sponsor for his wheelchair. Finding a sponsor would mean a great deal, as it would help him to finally be rid of SSI.”

I certainly can’t know why any one individual tries to auction off one’s wheelchair as signage – maybe it is charitable need, a stupid stunt, or good ol’ greed, all without an understanding of the harmful portrait of disability that it paints. Nevertheless, whatever the reason, I say keep the sign, but change the message and venue. I say that such wheelchair-draped signs should be printed in bold with one’s education, skills, and work history – one’s resume’ – where one pounds the pavement as a rolling endorsement of employment for oneself and others with disabilities, advertising strengths, not portraying weakness.

Then again, don’t settle for just a sign on the back of your wheelchair – make your entire life a rolling billboard of your education, employment, and empowerment, where the only backer that you need to succeed in life is yourself.

Segregating Segregation

Timmy and Jimmy are at the forefront of disability thought.  You know, Jimmy and Timmy, the two disabled characters of the foul-mouthed television cartoon, South Park – truly, they’re among our community’s most profound thinkers.  As the story goes, Timmy, who uses a wheelchair, and Jimmy, who uses crutches, were upset at Christopher Reeve, whom they didn’t view as a real “crip” because he wasn’t born with disability as they were – disability, according to Timmy and Jimmy, is a culture you’re born into.

This episode hit home with me not only as among the most daring topics – as with mocking Reeve’s struggles – but also as among the most true, bringing to light the common but rarely discussed lines of dissention within the disabled community among those born with disability and those whom received disability later in life.  As one born with a disability, and active among all forms of disabilities, I have been acutely aware since a young age of how the disabled community divides itself based on the origin of disability.  The standard fallacy of those born with disabilities says that because you received your disability later in life than at birth, you haven’t lived the full disability experience, you’re not a full-fledged member of the disability club.  On the flip side, the fallacy is that those whom received disabilities later in life don’t see themselves as “one of them,” those with so-called true disability, because they’ve lived a “normal experience” to a given extent. As a result, you end up with a divided community where our brothers and sisters face each other, stating, “You’re not one of us,” or “I’m not one of you.”  

On a similar note, South Park is not the only television show of recent to bring to light division among those with disabilities based on how we view each other.  Christy Smith, a hearing-impaired competitor on TV’s Survivor, has undergone a barrage of bashing from the deaf community for not complying with a code of conduct that many of her deaf peers follow regarding using sign language at all times.  Smith, a graduate of Gallaudet University, chose to read lips and speak by voice on the show, rather than using sign language and an interpreter.  On the web and in the press, many members of the deaf community have labeled Smith as somewhat of a trader for not staying true to her deaf culture’s form of communication.  Again, we see the phenomena of segregating each other within the disabled community based on status policies that we create.

Beyond the interpersonal, organizations within the disabled community set up similar fractions, striving to support one particular classification of disabilities over others.  If you use a wheelchair due to paralysis, one group will assist in your ADA complaint. However, if you use a wheelchair due to any other disability, you’re not eligible to use their services – you need to go through a cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy, or multiple sclerosis, or other disability-specific organization to get assistance. And, let’s not overlook wheelchair sports like quad rugby or events like United Cerebral Palsy sports that have both implied and formal rules stating that you cannot participate unless you have that particular medical designation.  You may have all four extremities affected by disability or have a disorder of the central nervous system, but unless you’re a card-carrying medical member of this or that “disability” group, you’re not allowed in the door.

If all this sound absurd – that is, differentiating others based on origin or type of disability – it is.  In my mind, segregating others based on differing disabilities is as absurd as Timmy and Jimmy labeling Reeve as not really disabled, or members within the deaf community calling Christy Smith a trader for using her communication abilities as she wishes.  No matter our disabilities, or how we handle them, for the most part society doesn’t distinguish among us – lack of access, employment discrimination and similar “mainstreaming” issues impact all of us.  Why, then, do we discriminate against each other, why do we divide amongst ourselves when we face common struggles?  

There are many possible answers to such a complex question.  From the interpersonal, maybe it’s hard to witness your own struggles in another person?  From the organizational, maybe resources are so scarce that groups feel a need to protect their own?  And, from the societal, maybe we struggle to maintain our culture while still striving to be part of the mainstream?  Indeed, in the grand perspective, all of these aspects play a role in division within the disabled community.  However, ultimately, individual action supercedes all, and we have an obligation to support others with similar situations to our own, uniting and creating a better life for everyone.